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Thursday, June 20, 2024

What Hindus must know about their Dharma

To use the term religion to define Hindu Dharma is erroneous, to say the least, because Dharma and religion are not synonyms. There are many things that set Hindu Dharma apart from other organized religions of the world. Hindu Dharma is known as the eternal religion because it is not bound by time; it has always existed and was revealed to the Rishis and Maharishis who then passed it on to humanity through their students.

Propagators of Dharma

Unlike other religions that have a single founder and one scripture, Hindu Dharma wasn’t ‘founded’ by anyone. Maharishis were only mantra-drashtas who accumulated the knowledge that was already in existence through spiritual practices. It would be more right to say that the spiritual practices of Rishis helped them to realize certain truths that formed the basis for our Dharma.

Beyond the everyday rituals, those were added as time passed by to help an ordinary human who did not have the knowledge and understanding that the Rishis possessed, are the truths that can be experimented with and verified. Rishis and Maharishis were merely mediums to accumulate knowledge and pass it on to ordinary people. So much like Newton discovered the law of gravity and did not invent it; so, did these Rishis and Maharishis hear and understand the laws that form the core tenets of what we call Hindu Dharma today.

These evolved souls basically systematized their experiences and orally transmitted their knowledge. However, the transmission wasn’t merely oral; students spent time in the Gurukul learning and themselves practicing what their Gurus taught them. This ensured that students absorbed the knowledge rather than simply acquiring it. A truth that can be verified acquires significance because it can be experimented upon by any individual who knows the method much as science students do in laboratories.

Granthas and philosophies of Hindu Dharma

Hindu granthas are based on Shruti (what is heard or has been revealed) and Smriti (what is remembered). There are several granthas a Sadhaka can choose from but at the heart of Sanatana Dharma are the Vedas. Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva are the four Vedas and each is divided into Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Bhashyas are commentaries by various Gurus and Rishis explaining the core tenets of the Vedas based on their personal experiences. Smritis are secondary scriptures that explain, elaborate, and illustrate the fundamental teachings of the Shruti.

Any mention of Hindu granthas remains incomplete without mentioning Bhagavad Gita? Its popularity stems from the fact that it gives the essence of Upanishadic teachings. In other words, one can easily understand core tenets with respect to life, death, meditation, duty, and devotion among other things. Basically, it is a practical guide based on Dharma showing people the path to lead one’s life, and one who can understand the core philosophy in the right sense can easily lead the ideal life.

Additionally, we have the Puranas, Itihasas in Ramayana and Mahabharata, Agamas, Darshanas, and Smritis of various Rishis such as Manu. An important point needs to be made here about Smritis; these are codes of laws that were meant to regulate the Hindu society. Although they are based on the Vedas; the rules and codes contained therein have been written keeping the circumstances of the society in mind.

Therefore, none of them is carved in stone and is subject to change with time. The society we live in today is far removed from the one that existed centuries ago. Hence, it is the duty and responsibility of today’s Dharma Gurus (religious leaders) to formulate new codes and laws that fit in with the changed circumstances. This flexibility is what sets Hindu Dharma apart.

The six Darshanas are: (1) Nyaya of Gautama (2) Vaisheshika of Kanada (3) Sankhya of Kapila (4) Yoga of Patanjali (5) Mimamsa of Jaimini and (6) Vedánta of Badarayana or Vyasa. These are systems of Hindu philosophy that are based on the meditation and mystical experiences of the Rishis.

The Nyaya and Vaisheshika propagate the atomic theory of creation. The theory of Sankhya says animate souls and inanimate matter as the basic factors in creation. Yoga deals with the control of the mind while Mimamsa concerns itself with upholding Vedic rituals.

Vedanta, meaning the culmination of the Vedas, is the pinnacle of all these systems. It is based on the Upanishads, the Gita, and Bhagwan Vyasa’s Brahma Sutras and gives the most rational solution to the fundamental problems posed by philosophy.

What sets Hindu Dharma apart?

In Hindu Dharma, each being (both living and non-living) is considered divine. While Abrahamic religions consider humans are born sinners, Hindu Dharma states that every individual is a divine being who has lost touch with one’s true self meaning the divinity within oneself. Sanatana Dharma accepts within its fold every being and believes that humans may commit errors but not sins.

There is no concept of blasphemy in Hindu Dharma and each individual is free to raise questions. In fact, the spirit of inquiry is important and humans are encouraged to accept any tenet only after being thoroughly convinced that it is acceptable. Any tenet needs to appeal both to the intellect and one’s heart and only then will an individual be able to take full advantage of the said tenet’s benefit.

Hindu Dharma preaches that to be good and to do good is the essence of religion, all other things being secondary. Gross materialists, instead of being condemned, are advised to be a little less selfish while enjoying the good things of life!

This doesn’t mean one can run amok and anything and everything can pass muster. Those things that are harmful to society and the larger good can never be acceptable. Individual rights are also bound by one’s Dharmic duties.  

We have just touched the tip of the iceberg and there is a lot more to what we call Sanatana Dharma. One lifetime would possibly not be enough to understand the whole of it. However, more than accumulating knowledge it is essential that we put that knowledge to good use.

Hindu Dharma is a vast ocean and everyone who takes a dip comes up with a different gem. So every sect, sub-sect, ideology, and belief has a place in Sanatana Dharma. Hindu Dharma allows us to choose the path best suited to our needs and one that appeals to us the most. It is like a buffet where the adherent has the widest variety to choose from!!!

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A opinionated girl-next-door with an attitude. I'm certainly not afraid to call myself 'a proud Hindu' and am positively politically incorrect. A Bharatiya at heart who loves reading, music, sports and nature. Travelling and writing are my passions.


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